Stories in Stone, rebuilding the City of London in 1660s

My theory about two stone plaques off Newgate Street in the City of London that are both dated 1660s is that they were made to identify streets, like street signs today, and to beautify the new London that was being rebuilt in stone after the old wooden city had burnt down. I love the knight’s graceful pose and the way his chain mail is shown. Both are about 2 ft (0.6m) high. This one is in Warwick Lane. Who is he? Someone with the initials GC? Gail Jones aka Sherlock, has been hunting for answers.

The facts : Warwick Lane is so called because the Earl of Warwick had a house here from at least 1400s. The plaque can be seen on a 1767 drawing of the street. It is above the first floor windows of a three storey brick terrace building that might have a shop or a coffee house on the ground floor. Beyond it is the Royal College of Physicians, the site of the present-day Cutlers Hall. Today the plaque is by the entrance of a building on roughly the same spot. Another drawing of 1791 shows it in detail, the artist is unknown but he says he drew it from Mr Curtis’ window, presumably Mr Curtis owned the house opposite. In 1820 a Frederick Nash made a water colour of it, still in situe on the brick building with no reference to it having been restored three years earlier.

Underneath the plaque we see today is an inscription saying; 1817 restored by architect J Deykes and the reference to a book on London by Pennant, 5th edition and 492.

John Deykes was little known architect who was working in London and Malvern Worcestershire at this time. He carried out some restoration work at St Brides church, Fleet Street and John and Samuel Deykes built the Foley Hotel and the Coburg Baths in Malvern.

Thomas Pennant was a Welsh naturalist and antiquarian who wrote travel books, mainly about his tours of Wales and Scotland but in 1790 he wrote An Account Of London. He died in 1798 but his publishers obviously wanted to advertise the 5th edition of the book published in 1813 which must have mentioned the sculpture on page 492.

The guesswork: There were some pubs on Warwick Lane which might give a clue. According to a list of pub landlords from 1772-1884, one was called the Guy Earl of Warwick.

Guy of Warwick was a legendary character of C10th. Stories about him were written much later in C13 and C14th and he had became a romantic hero who fell in love with the Earl’s daughter but being from a humble background had to prove his worthiness. He fought a monstrous beast (a cow actually but hey, they can be dangerous) and a Danish giant called Colbrand. In Shakespeare and Ben Jonson’s lifetimes when theatre had arrived, a play about Guy was written. This was in the late 1500s with another version of the play written in 1620 and yet another in 1661. So, very contemporary with the plaque date. Could the GC intitials be for Guy and Colbrand?

In 1272 when the troubadour style story was beginning to be told, the Earl of Warwick, William de Beauchamp named his son after the legendary hero. Guy de Beauchamp (c1272-1315) inherited the title Earl of Warwick from his father during the reign of Edward I. He was considered a very wise man. Later he was one of the earls involved in the plot to kill Piers Gaveston, the favourite of Edward II.  

Our knight’s shield is clearly the coat of arms of the Guy, Earl of Warwick. It is based on the first earls family shield. They were called Beaumont which became Newburgh and they were cousins to the Beauchamps.  

The other sign is better known. Its condition is much poorer than the Warwick Lane plaque, I think because it is in low relief whereas the knight was in ¾ relief so the image was always more defined. It looks pretty complete in the prints I found, even before it was restored in 1817. The prints are copyrighted so I can’t show them but they are easy to find if you google Warwick Lane and the dates I have given.

The second plaque, of a boy sitting on a basket is in Panyer Alley. Maps from 1520 show that the street existed then and that there was a pub or brewery called the Panyer at the southern end of it, near St Pauls Cathedral.  This sign made in 1688 might have been a pub sign, or decoration on a house, or simply on a wall to show the name of the street as an image because many people couldn’t read. A panyer was a bread basket used by bread sellers. They may have been made in the street, all sorts of trades were carried out in the City. Did the pub get its name from a basket making trade carried out here or was the street named after the brewhouse? I would guess the latter because so many places in London today are named after pubs. Under the sculpture is a boastful inscription, “When ye have sought the City round, Yet still this is the highest ground”. It might be an old form of advertising, and if it is, its misleading because this is not the highest point in the City, that is at the top of Cornhill.

About the author: Gail Jones

Tourist Guide

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